• Published 3rd Sep 2021
  • 374 Views, 52 Comments

Kindness and the Fate of Shadow - Raven-Flight

An old threat is back, leading Fluttershy and Discord to confront their plans for the future. They've each been keeping secrets...

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It's a Process

“Well, mister, since you’ve been payin’ so much attention, remind me: what are the six elements of harmony?”

Sombra’s expression was smug as he faced down his interrogator. “Kindness, loyalty, generosity, magic, laughter, and honesty.”

“Uh-huh. Now tell me somethin’ about each. Is it honest to protect a pony’s feelings for the moment, or for the future?”

“The future. You have to be honest even if you know it will hurt a pony’s feelings so you can protect them from some future problem.”

“How ‘bout laughter? What’s it do for a friendship?”

“Laughter is good for bonding. It defuses tension and reminds friends that their differences don’t need to divide them.”

“Magic. What they hay’s that got to do with friendship?”

“It’s the source and product. The fact that different ponies can come together in unity is a work of magic, and that “hard-won unity”, in the Princess’s words, generates a unifying magic of its own.”

“Good, good. Does a generous friend always give whatever’s asked of them?”

“They may, but it would not betray generosity to deny a request. The true spirit of generosity often chooses to give even before a request is made.”

“Now, loyalty. Loyalty means an errant friend doesn’t deserve to be accepted back into the group, right?”

“Hmm. Well, it doesn’t necessarily detract from the group’s loyalty to accept a disloyal friend back if they all agree to do so. After all, friends are allowed to make mistakes, as long as they’re sorry and work to improve themselves. Like myself!”

“Ah-HA! That’s a lie an’ you know it! Ya may sound like you’re workin’ to improve yourself, but I know ya ain't sorry!”

“Oh, but I am, Applejack!” Sombra touched a hoof to his chest. “I am truly sorry for the actions that resulted in my being imprisoned here.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow. That admission scanned as true, but something about it just tasted dishonest, and she couldn’t put her hoof on it. “Fine. Now we get to kindness. Bein’ kind means givin’ other ponies how many second chances?”

“As many as they need, of course.”

Applejack’s face was in her hooves before she even realized it. “No, an’ I hope Fluttershy hasn’t accidentally been teachin’ that. Bein’ kind means givin’ other ponies as many second chances as they deserve. Now, naturally, that’s subjective, and Fluttershy has a pretty low standard for what ‘deserving’ is, but there is a limit. Lettin’ somepony back into your life over an’ over when they never make any effort to change isn’t kind to yourself, so that’s when the second chances have to stop. Fluttershy’s deemed you deservin’ of another chance because you got her believin’ that you’re genuinely interested in bein’ reformed. Now, since she’s the expert on kindness, I’ve got to defer to her decision on that. I only hope she’s right.”

“Applejack, you give me no credit. I know Fluttershy wants to see me reformed, and I’ll do anything to win her friendship.”

“Well, take those friendship lessons ya recited to heart, then, and just maybe you’ll succeed. For all our sakes, I hope ya do.”

“Is that really the truth, oh element of honesty?”

The mare furrowed her brows with a scowl. “Yerr darn tootin’ it is. Maybe I don’t think ya deserve this second chance as much as Fluttershy thinks so, but as long as the chance has been offered to ya, I really do hope ya prove me wrong and make good on it. Honesty also means tellin’ the truth even when ya don’t like your own opinion. There’s your honestly lesson; be ready to recite that back to me in two weeks. For now, I’m done here.” Something in the air down here made it feel rank and sticky, and Applejack couldn’t tolerate it any longer. All that Sombra had said was true indeed. She just wasn’t so sure it was the honest truth.

“Goodbye, Applejack!” Sombra called as she retreated. “I’m looking forward to our next meeting!”

Applejack didn’t see fit to reply. She had to talk to Twilight.

Sure, she could teleport a fair distance, but lately, Twilight preferred taking the train when she could. She was rarely in that much of a hurry to get back to her throne. She had left Rarity and Rainbow Dash in charge of the minutiae for the weekend, and Spike was there to make sure they didn’t do anything she wouldn’t. The kingdom was in capable hooves and claws.

Plus, the peaceful train ride in her private car gave her the time and space she needed to process some thoughts. On this particular ride back to Canterlot, she had a lot on her mind.

It wasn’t that the visit with Celestia and Luna hadn’t gone well—or that it had deviated at all from what she’d expected—it was that the subject matter was heavy and uncomfortable on all points. First, there was Celestia herself. The alicorn had gotten better over the last few years by gardening as a form of gentle exercise, but her stunted magic still wasn’t strong enough to open up her pocket dimension. Twilight wondered at this point whether Celestia would ever be able to channel even a fraction of her former magical power through that broken horn of hers. At least she and Luna were living as neighbors in their retirement, and the latter had mastered the skill of casting booster spells to assist when Celestia needed it. Without Luna’s help, Twilight wouldn’t have been able to check up on Chrysalis that morning.

And what an experience that had been. Twilight sighed at the memory of their interaction.

“I still want to be queen!” shouted the adolescent changeling.

Celestia picked up the end table that had been knocked over while Luna retrieved a broom for the shattered glass.

Whether or not you become a queen again someday depends on how much reformation and responsibility you can show us. For now, you still have a lot of growing up to do.”

“GROWING UP TO DO? I still have all my memories from being an adult! It is humiliating to continue to be treated as a child!” Her emphatic stomp knocked over the end table again.

THEN STOP ACTING LIKE A CHILD” Twilight put her hooves over her mouth. She was exasperated, but she hadn’t meant to let herself get riled up. It wasn’t helping that Chrysalis responded to the outburst with a smirk.

That had not been one of Twilight’s finer moments. Even so, she got the impression that all was not lost for the former changeling queen. Sure, she was belligerent and antagonistic, but that seemed to have more to do with her going through adolescence again than any particularly strong objection to being reformed. Twilight agreed with Celestia and Luna that the best reformation plan for Chrysalis was to continue to give her the space she needed to grow up comfortably (as much as would be possible in the solitary confinement of a pocket dimension) while demonstrating the ideals they hoped she would grow to espouse. So far, they were on track with that, even if the teenage changeling wasn’t aware of her own progress.

The alicorn trio had visited Twilight’s charge next. Cozy Glow was her usual apathetic self until she noticed Luna was there. A flurry of questions about Nightmare Moon, eternal darkness, and taking over Equestria followed. To Twilight’s utter surprise, Luna had been charmed by the filly’s enthusiasm. She made some promises about coming back later to answer the questions in private, then motioned for Twilight to teleport them all back out. Once they had left Cozy Glow behind, Luna explained that in sharing her story, she might be able to show the filly how much her grab for power had actually enslaved her. Perhaps indulging Cozy Glow in her interests might get her engaged enough to recognize the flaws in her own behavior. Twilight readily agreed to this plan, having failed in her own attempts to get Cozy Glow engaged, and she and Luna organized a few reform sessions over the coming moons.

A timid knocking sounded at the door, but it wasn’t until the third set that Twilight finally broke from her thoughts.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Would the Princess like to be served her dinner?”

“No thank you,” she replied, walking toward the door, “I can go down to the dining car just like everypony else.” Twilight opened the door to see an earth stallion in uniform carrying a covered tray.

And behind him was a clamoring swarm of faces smiling and screaming, taking pictures and pushing against each other in a frantic rush toward her door.

“On second thought, yes, I think I will take my dinner in here.” Twilight hastily pulled the attendant inside. After her dinner had been laid out for her, she had to teleport the stallion back to the other car, so heavy was the press of the mob on the door.

Her reverie continued as she savored her pasta. Last of all, she and Celestia had entered Luna’s pocket dimension with her to visit Tirek. The centaur had made Twilight uneasy with how thoroughly he had put her at ease. It was rather hard to parse. Twilight hadn’t expected to find him so willing to change his ways. As much as she wanted to be suspicious of his intentions, there was nothing in what he did or said to suggest outright that he was lying. He even expressed a desire to seek out and reconcile with his brother once he had been deemed worthy of release. It wasn’t at all like her interactions with Sombra, who professed sincerity but acted just a little too confidently. Applejack had even mentioned how convinced she was that while he wouldn’t lie to her, he wouldn’t tell the truth either.

In discussing the matter with Celestia and Luna, they all agreed that it was too early to trust Sombra. It would also be important not to let him know that. There was a chance he did mean it, and insisting on vilifying him could create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best course of action might even be to award him a little more freedom—without actually dropping guard—to give him a chance to prove himself.

So it was settled. Sombra would be moved from the dungeon to a more comfortable guarded palace room. Granting him luxuries she was sure he didn’t deserve felt reprehensible to Twilight, yet that was exactly what Fluttershy had done for Discord long ago, and it had worked wonders. Perhaps the same solution might work for Cozy Glow one day, too, but in her case, it seemed too early for even that kind of trust.

Twilight regarded the ornately-garnished pudding that had been given as dessert, but she couldn’t convince herself to want it. Not with that poor, problematic filly weighing on her mind.